How Thanksgiving Works

Thanksgiving Traditions

Parade, Macy's Parade, Macy's
Parade participants attend the 90th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 24, 2016, in New York City. John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images

Apart from food, the biggest Thanksgiving traditions are football and parades. In an­cient harvest festivals, people usually celebrated with games and sports, so you could argue the football tradition has very deep roots. The traditional American Thanksgiving football game was usually between the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers, but as football has become more popular, there are now more games on Thanksgiving day.

­The tradition of Thanksgiving parades goes back to the early 20th century, when people began to associate Thanksgiving with the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. In order to attract customers, stores like Macy's sponsored elaborate parades like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Some people choose to express their gratitude by giving back to the community. Volunteer activities, such as helping out at a soup kitchen or at a shelter, are popular ways to spend Thanksgiving Day.

Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has gifted a live Thanksgiving turkey to the White House, along with two butchered turkeys [source: Raloff]. It's not known exactly when United States presidents began pardoning the White House Thanksgiving turkey, but the tradition is thought to be connected to Abraham Lincoln sparing a turkey named "Jack" from becoming the main dish in a holiday meal. Today, the Annual Turkey Ceremony takes place in advance of Thanksgiving, and the public has the opportunity to name the spared turkey, who lives its remaining days at the Kidwell Farm, a petting zoo in Virginia.

Finally, because Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of November and thus falls on a different date each year, the president of the United States issues a yearly proclamation to establish the date of the celebration. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln began the tradition, and every president since has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation.

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More Great Links


  • Bergland, Renee. "The Surprising History of Thanksgiving." Simmons College.
  • Meeks, N. Brock. "Since Plymouth, Thanksgiving Day has seen its share of controversy." Nov. 23, 2005. MSNBC.
  • Nelte, Karen. "History of the Modern Thanksgiving." Aug. 9, 2001.
  • Raloff, Janet. "Food for Thought: Talking Turkey (with recipe)." Nov. 29, 2003. Science News Online.
  • United States Census Bureau. Nov. 23, 2006.
  • United States Department of State. "Celebrate! Holidays in the U.S."